Petitions and Habeas Corpus

I have to disagree with Iain Dale that petitions on the Number Ten website are pointless. The comparison I would make is with habeas corpus, and more particularly habeas corpus ad subjiciendum. As I understand it, habeas corpus provides for someone being detained to be brought before a judge (in a court of law) for determination as to whether their detention is legitimate. Its logic of operation is that by bringing a case in front of a judge, justice will be done; the guarantor of the judge's honesty (and I cast no aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary) is that everything is conducted in public.

The same logic applies to public petitions of Parliament 'for the redress of grievances'. Many petitions attract little note; others attract millions of signatories. The point is to place on record an opinion that something is amiss. I feel that a Government should take note of petitions; if it does not, it can miss a substantial strand of opinion that may lead, in extremis, to its own downfall. Whether or not the Prime Minister looks at petitions on a regular basis is somewhat irrelevant. I am quite sure that the Number Ten staff do - viz Benn Wegg-Prosser's comment on Iain's post - and while an exhortation for the PM to "stand on his head and juggle ice cream" may be described as light-hearted and not needing a response, a certain petition dealing with road pricing, which finished with close on two million signatures, attracted a reply from the PM and continued debate in the press.

It's not just the 'big issues' that attract attention. Quite a lot of photographers were labouring under the misapprehension that restrictions on photography in public places were going to be brought in as a response (or so I read) to concerns about paedophiles and paparazzi. In order to put the matter to bed, every Government department was asked if they were considering any such proposals. They were not, as it happened. Perhaps not the most significant of victories unless you happen to be a photographer.

I will forgo the usual stuff about 'public participation' and 'having your voice heard'; for the process to work, it is dependent on attention being paid to public proceedings. Here, top political bloggers, like Iain, owe a duty as members of the fourth estate to pay attention to petitions and to the answers that the Government of the day provide. Criticise either by all means, but don't decry the process. Sunlight remains the best disinfectant.


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